Thursday, June 14, 2012

Getting into the hard depression now:

I used to work at a music store (a terrible and now defunct chain store, where I worked not especially well) and I still have some promo CD's from that time. One of them was the soundtrack for Dancer in the Dark, which I had for several years before actually seeing the movie. Actually, I only think I caught the last half-hour of the movie, but while the soundtrack breaks my heart, even watching part of the movie was like watching a sack of puppies and kittens drown in your washing machine, then having to reach past them to put your clothes in the drier so you can go to a funeral. (Apparently making the film was no picnic either, and I'm not sure Björk ever made another film.)

Why do I bring this up? Because although it came out a couple years after today's issue, the Björk/Thom Yorke duet "I've Seen it All" always comes to mind when I read it. From 1998, The Incredible Hulk #467, "The Lone and Level Sands" Written by Peter David ("ex-writer"), pencils and inks by Adam Kubert ("X-artist").

In the previous issue, Betty Banner suddenly came down with severe radiation poisoning. Despite Bruce's valiant efforts, she dies; and he believes his gamma radiation may be what killed her. Ten years unseen freelancer from the Daily Bugle (named Peter...) interviews Rick Jones.

Rick begins telling the story, even though he wasn't there for some of it: as he and Marlo get the news, and as Thunderbolt Ross screams and waves his arms at his son-in-law, Bruce calmly makes his first suicide attempt moments after Betty's death. Stopped by the doctors, Bruce is put in a secure room; with tranq-guns set to automatically fire if his heart rate goes up (which would signal his change into the Hulk) and Ross continues glaring at him.
When Rick (who was in a wheelchair at the time) visits Bruce, it's readily apparent that, to use the technical term, he's cracked. Describing it as "a going away party for me," in his mind Bruce is surrounded by dozens of friends and foes he's met over the years. Quoting Percy Bysshe Shelley's "Ozymandias," Bruce tries to explain to Rick that those vast and trunkless legs are the Hulk's; there is nothing left without Betty.

Grasping at straws, Rick suggests the Leader's resurrection machine that saved Marlo around issue #400. Although he plans to check that out, Bruce is pretty sure it's been destroyed; with that, he turns into the Hulk. Rick describes the change as calm, as if giving up humanity was now a blessing for him; and his eyes as "envious." When the reporter follows up on that, Rick isn't sure why.

Bruce then makes multiple suicide attempts, but is always stopped by the Hulk, which Rick sees as not just Bruce's anger, but also his survival instinct. (Something David had touched on before in Hulk: The End, another not-especially-uplifting tale...) The events rattled off next could easily have been another year or so worth of Hulk comics: the army tries to stop the Hulk, fails. Bruce jumps off the Empire State Building, but lands as the Hulk, then the Avengers show up. Bruce tries black magic, but hell is even enjoying his torment and won't take him.

Rick also tells of Betty's funeral--closed casket, which he says led to conspiracy theories; but she was cremated later. Thor parts the rain clouds there, creating a rainbow: "It was like a reminder that you're just supposed to keep going, no matter what life throws at you." Which leads into Bruce's last visit to Rick.

Late at night, after a fight with his wife, Rick can't sleep, and plays the harmonica. Bruce seemingly appears from nowhere, wearing shades and smoking a pipe; making casual conversation about the blues and the song Rick was playing the day they met on the gamma bomb test range. (Buddy Holly's "That'll Be the Day That I Die," as described here.) Bruce describes his various suicide attempts as "a permanent solution to a temporary problem," and refers to "Ozymandias" again: someday, he will be gone; his legacy nothing but rubble. (Ironic, since the Hulk's legacy was rubble...) But that's OK: Bruce tried to find power, to be the strongest one there is, yet the only power that means anything is the power to help others. Leaving Rick for the last time, Bruce's eyes glow green.
The reporter asks if Rick worries about the Hulk, and Rick says he has other things to live for; like his daughter, Betty. (Rick also seems to have his "comic awareness" from his Captain Marvel days, since he wonders if he's not in an alternate, unofficial timeline.) Although the reporter wants to hear more, Rick feels he's said enough.

This was, of course, Peter David's last issue of the Incredible Hulk, ending a twelve-year run. (And it wasn't quite his "last" issue, he would have a brief return in 2005.) It really says something that this issue is so sad even though the new writer (poor Joe Casey, as we've seen a couple times) would have to immediately start backtracking from it--the Abomination poisoned Betty, not Bruce's radiation; and Thunderbolt Ross did save Betty's body. (Ross had been dead himself for a long stretch, so that's not completely unreasonable.) And of course, now Ross is the Red Hulk and Betty the Red She-Hulk, which strangely just makes me even sadder.

1 comment:

Dale Bagwell said...

Peter David's run was my personal favorite for me, and also my choice for most definitive run on Hulk by a writer period. Damn shame to see him forced off the book, because the powers-that-be wanted stupid Hulk back. Idk why he came back though, other than to as a way of getting his Hulk:The End story done and printed.

This really is one of the saddest Hulk issues out there, besides the death of Jarella and his old sidekick Ron Wilson from aids.